Working with clients I often hear “I already tried that and it didn’t work” or “I tried that once and I couldn’t do it.” They are haunted by past mishaps or mistakes, situations that made them feel incompetent or insignificant and these memories stop them in their tracks. They are held back by their past. The inner voices they create can become the core of self-sabotage and it requires careful encouragement and support to banish these demons.
I was working with a client last year who told me: “…I simply can’t talk in public. I want to, it’s just when I stand up I go to pieces.” She told me her inability in this area was holding her back from promotion and even resulted in a “sick-day” to avoid presenting to her team. “I know I’m haunted by my past” she told me. When we explored when she last remembered feeling good talking in public, she recalled a time when she was happy to take the lead roles in school productions, to represent her team in the school debate, to make a presentation as Head Girl in front of hundreds of parents.
When we explored why and when this changed, she told me about an experience at University when she forgot her lines during a production of Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure, which resulted in hysterical laughter from the already rowdy audience. She felt humiliated; particularly since her new boyfriend was seated in the second row. This second memory was, of course, the one that came to mind before every presentation, the one that returned her to feeling 19 and embarrassed.
Once we had identified that she had not always been “unable to talk in public” (her words) and that she could therefore feel a different way about it, she was prepared to look at ideas and ways to rid herself of this negative belief. She decided to create a new habit and each time she remembered the University experience, she recited those dreaded – but apt – lines she had forgotten:
“Our doubts are traitors,
and make us lose the good we oft might win,
by fearing to attempt”.
Measure for Measure- (Act I, Scene IV)
The confidence this developed, the self-belief it reinforced allowed her to shed the demons and decide on a new course. This year she presented to an audience of 350 people in her second language, and received a standing ovation. She also took up amateur dramatics and I understand is in rehearsal for panto* as I type!
Are your clients haunted by their past? What is holding them back and taking them back in time to a place where they were not in control, felt humiliated or dis-empowered? I’d love to know what techniques you use to help them change their patterns and outcomes.
*panto – short for Pantomime – is a traditional British theatre production at Christmas and New Year, where popular children’s stories are retold with larger-than-life characters, jokes and audience participation.